by Isi Esene
Bishop David Oyedepo is no stranger to controversy at home and abroad. The latest accusation thrown at the founder of the Winners’ Chapel Church is coming from a British tabloid, the UK Mail on Sunday which quoted a British MP, Paul Flynn describing Oyedepo’s brand of Christianity as ‘cynical exploitation’.
This is how the British tabloid magazine reported it:
Today’s Mail on Sunday revelations about the Winners’ Chapel movement have prompted the Charity Commission to review the charitable status of the church – one of the fastest-growing in the UK.
Winners’ Chapel is part of a worldwide empire of evangelical ministries run by Nigeria’s wealthiest preacher David Oyedepo, who has an estimated £93 million fortune, a fleet of private jets and a Rolls-Royce Phantom.
Dubbed ‘The Pastorpreneur’, he was accused earlier this year of slapping the face of a young woman he said was a witch. The assault case was struck out but is being appealed.
Branches of the church have sprung up in major UK cities in a huge recruitment drive centred on Mr Oyedepo’s ‘prosperity gospel’. This claims that congregants who make regular donations and pay tithes – a ten per cent levy on their income – will be rewarded financially by God.
Followers are urged to target vulnerable people such as the lonely, the sick, the homeless and the suicidal as potential candidates for conversion.
Last night, Labour MP Paul Flynn said Winners’ Chapel was cynically exploiting supporters. ‘They [Winners’ Chapel] are making clearly spurious claims and it seems to be a cynical exploitation of the gullible,’ he said.Referring to the slapping incident, Mr Flynn added: ‘What is also alarming is the reported violence and the lack of respect for the status of women. It’s taking us back to a previous age of ignorance and prejudice that we all thought the church had escaped.’
This newspaper’s investigation can further disclose:
- Congregants are handed a payment slip requesting payments using cheque, cash or debit card when they enter London’s Winners’ Chapel.
- Donations to the ministry in England almost doubled from £2.21 million to £4.37 million between 2006 and 2010.
- Mr Oyedepo’s superchurch in Nigeria received £794,000 or 73 per cent of the charitable donations paid out by the British Winners’ Chapel between 2007 and 2010. This was despite claims in Africa that he is enriching himself at the expense of his devotees.
- The registered charity has spent £6.81 million on evangelism and ‘praise, worship and fellowship’.
- The church’s ‘Joseph Squad’ preaches in British prisons and has a weekly broadcast named ‘Liberation Hour’ on satellite and cable TV here.
In the past three years, Winners’ Chapel churches have been established in Liverpool, Birmingham, Leeds and Bradford, adding to those in London, Manchester, Dublin and Glasgow.
An undercover Mail on Sunday reporter attended Sunday services at Winners’ Chapel’s ‘London HQ’ in Dartford, Kent, which attracts 1,000 congregants – chiefly African and Caribbean immigrants. It is run like ‘a business conference’ by Mr Oyedepo’s son, David Oyedepo Jnr. Packed buses deliver singing worshippers from South-East London, Essex and Kent to the huge auditorium.
The reporter was taken, with 20 other new recruits, to a room where preachers gave sermons claiming acceptance of the Lord would prevent them ever being ill or suffering misfortune.
The Mail on Sunday has seen video footage of Mr Oyedepo striking a woman across the face and condemning her to hell after she said she was a ‘witch for Jesus’. He attacked her in a Winners’ Chapel superchurch, believed to be in Nigeria, in front of worshippers. A separate video shows him saying: ‘I slapped a witch here last year!’
Among Mr Oyedepo’s fleet of aircraft are said to be a Gulfstream 1 and Gulfstream 4 private jets. It is also claimed he and his wife, Faith, travel in expensive Jeeps flanked by convoys of siren-blaring vehicles. He is the senior pastor of Faith Tabernacle, a 50,000-seat auditorium in Lagos reputed to be the largest church in the world, and runs a publishing company that distributes books carrying his message across the world.
His other business interests span manufacturing, petrol stations, bakeries, water purification factories, recruitment, a university, restaurants, supermarkets and real estate. The latest addition is a commercial airline named Dominion Airlines.
A Charity Commission spokesman said: ‘The Charity Commission is currently assessing what, if any, regulatory role there is to play with regard to the complaints made against the World Mission Agency. It is important to clarify that this does not constitute an investigation at this stage.’
We await the outcome of The Charity Commission’s assessment.